No doubt we’ve all received a couple (hundred) emails from solicitors in Africa who report having a client with millions of dollars worth of cash tied up in a bank there (a result of unfair government policies, of course) and who needs your help in obtaining it. Surely, if you’re like me, you roll your eyes and quickly delete that piece of e-junk.
However over the past few weeks, several clients as well as myself have been receiving emails that look very real and seemingly innocuous but which are, in fact fake emails, and a potential threat to their financial well-being!
One recent example is an email confirmation from Amazon indicating that a 55-inch flat screen TV was being shipped to a person that the client did not know and asking that you to click on a link to report any account discrepancy.
Another is a report that the business owner has had a Better Business Bureau complaint filed and you are to respond to that complaint via a specific link in the email.
One that just came today was from Wells Fargo. That read: ATTENTION: THIS E-MAIL MAY BE AN ADVERTISEMENT OR SOLICITATION FOR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. To unsubscribe from marketing e-mails from: An individual Wells Fargo WFC +0.12% Advisors financial advisor: Reply to one of his/her e-mails and type “Unsubscribe” in the subject line.
Even the IRS is a hot item for these bogus emails.
Another common tactic is you get email from someone you know and it contains a message such as “you have to look at this” They want you to click on a link to something that can harm you and your computer. Often there are many others that it was sent to at the same time. If you are uncertain send a fresh email to that known person asking if they sent that email.
James Hackett the Marketing and Communications Director at Cruzio, a premier internet provider in Santa Cruz Ca, reports that these email scams are getting more and more sophisticated. “There use to be tip offs in the email with misspellings and poor grammar since many of these emanate from foreign countries.”
The recent BBB claim is an example of the poor English; “The Better Business Bureau has been filed the above said appeal from one of your clientes in regard to their business contacts with you. The detailed description of the consumer’s disturbance are available visiting a link below. Hackett went on to say that over time, the scammers are cleaning up their grammar and it is getting harder to discern the bogus emails from ones that are not.
Hackett said that banking, e-commence and merchandisers are often the companies mentioned in such emails. He gave the example of what looks like an email from Wells Fargo Bank that says there is an irregularity in your account or that you are overdrawn and need to click on the link to view the irregularity. Being one of the largest banks in the U.S., it’s not implausible that the email recipient might indeed bank with Wells Fargo.
These are examples of “phishing,” which according to Wikipedia “…is the act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”
“Phishing emails may contain links to websites that are infected with malware. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one.”
Hackett and others said there are things to do and things not do when you receive an email regarding a transaction or account, some of which include:
- Install anti-virus software on your computer and keep it up to date.
- Install anti-malware or anti-spyware software on your computer and keep it up to date.
- Install a personal firewall and keep it up to date.
- DO NOT click on any links in the email.
- Do not open any attachments.
- Never call any phone number in the email since it could be bogus and used to extract more information from you.
- DO NOT REPLY to the email since that will only confirm that a live person is there and you would be the subject of further attempts.
- Contact the company mentioned in the email directly at a phone number or email address that is posted on the company’s actual website. Notify them of the email and confirm that you did not place the order and that they should not ship the order (if, indeed, there was an order placed).
- Mark the email as junk or spam on your email service.
- Send the email to the trash after you have contacted the real company; they may want you to forward them a copy and many companies have specific instructions on how to forward a phishing or spoof email to be dealt with by their security department.
Given the prevalence of Smartphones, another all-too-common and growing concern are “smishing” activities, which like email phishing, is an attempt to obtain personal and sensitive information via an SMS or text message. That text you got from Wells Fargo about your credit card being imminently cancelled could be an attempt to get you to click on a fraudulent link that could compromise your Smartphone. The same email safeguards listed above should be considered for your Smartphone.
Understand that there will always be “losers” who want to take advantage of you. You can avoid falling prey to these scammers provided that you use common sense and don’t overreact to what would normally be a very disturbing email. Though you can’t always avoid these bogus emails you can maintain your financial well-being by recognizing them for what they really are.